How do you solve a problem like climate change? Green energy and fossil fuel restrictions are good places to start, but a new study suggests we've been underestimating the potential of natural climate solutions.
Scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions have examined the ways greenhouse gasses can be stored in forests, farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands in the most extensive research on the topic to date. The peer-reviewed study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The results are provocative: first, because of the magnitude of potential carbon sequestration from nature, and second, because we need natural climate solutions in tandem with rapid fossil fuel emissions cuts to beat climate change," said Dr. William H. Schlesinger, Professor Emeritus of Biogeochemistry and former president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Taking cost restraints into consideration, the scientists worked out that natural climate change solutions could reduce emissions by 11.3 billion tonnes per year by 2030. To put this into perspective, the study says this would have the same benefit on the environment as completely stopping the burning of oil.
It would also take us one-third of the way to meeting our global emission targets, as set out in the Paris Agreement, to stop warming reaching two degrees or higher.
If we could throw cost restraints out the window, the scientists calculated we could reduce emissions by 23.8 billion tonnes per year.
"Today our impacts on the land cause a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. The way we manage the lands in the future could deliver 37% of the solution to climate change," Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, explained in a statement.
"That is huge potential, so if we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature, as well as in clean energy and clean transport."
The most effective way to capture carbon is with trees, which absorb and store carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. According to the research, we could remove seven billion tonnes of CO2 from every year by 2030 (equivalent to taking 1.5 billion cars off the road) with better forestry practices, additional reforestation efforts, and by avoiding forest lost.
Other natural climate solutions mentioned in the paper include protecting peatlands, smarter applications of chemical fertilizers, and the improved management of livestock.
"Natural climate solutions are vital to ensuring we achieve our ultimate objective of full decarbonization and can simultaneously boost jobs and protect communities in developed and developing countries," said Christiana Figueres of Mission 2020 and former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).